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Inishshark (Shark Island) - The story of an Island's demise

By Edited Dec 20, 2013 1 0

Inishshark is an island lying 5 miles of the west coast of Connemara in Ireland. Once inhabited, the island is now barren with only the ruins of several houses and a single church left to commemorate a long gone community of people. Once home to 100’s, the last remaining 23 inhabitants were evacuated to the mainland in 1960 after a number of unfortunate deaths, bad weather, a poor harbour and a governments decision on the fate of an increasingly isolated community.

Geography

The side that faces the Atlantic is one of the most westerly points of land in Europe; cliffs meet the sea on this side of the island. In contrast is the south easterly side where lie the ruins of several houses and stone walls to mark out the division of land, stones dug out the ground and skillfully laid, marking out areas of cultivation, staying un-fallen for decades , even centuries, a common sight in rural Ireland

The people

A living was to be had from the sea and from the land. Fishing and crops sustained these people and money was made by selling fish on the mainland.

Winter brought long nights with no light but what the fire wrought. Isolated and cut off from the outside world.

 The history goes back centuries to the 7th century where Saint Leo, the patron saint of the island whose name the ruined church is named after, settled there at the time when Christians first inhabited the island. There remains little evidence of this persons residence on the island apart from a ruined structure said to have been this saints dwelling,  a cave where the saint dedicated his time in prayer where now lies a well in his name.

Relocation and an Islands Death

A poorly maintained harbour was the only way in and out of the island, a wild and constantly swelling sea made landing there difficult even in the calmer weather.

inishshark pier

Fishing was a necessity, increasing the risk of accidents every time a boat was put out. Travel to and from the island in the winter months was almost impossible, especially pre 1960’s where the main method of sea transportation at the time were narrow wooden, tar covered, row boats called currachs. Food, doctors and medicine were not an option for these people, nor were priests, something just as important.

In October of 1960 the Irish government provided homes and a new life for the remaining 6 shark families.

It was a crucial decision, not just for the government who decided it would be more economical to relocate the remaining inhabitants to the mainland rather than continue to maintain a harbour and a community on inishshark, but also for that ever decreasing community themselves, where it was no longer safe to remain so cut off from aid for weeks at a time.

 

ruins of houses

Getting there

The best option for travelling to Inishshark is to take a ferry service from Cliften, Co. Galway to a larger island called Inishbofin. From there make you can arrange to hire a local fisherman or boat owner to bring you across. Alternatively if you own kayaks you can row across from the south/west point of inishbofin. From there you can take a southerly heading to the remains of an old pier once used by the fishermen of inishshark.

 

sea view

 


Inishshark Aerial View

Inishshark Aerial View

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